The laws on towing commercial vans in the UK are quite simple - when you know what they are. They are designed with the driver in mind, for their safety and for the safety of the other road users.
There are many key factors of legislation you have to consider when towing with a van, which includes your driver's licence, the hours you are driving, speed and weight limits and operator licensing.
Here are some of the most important van towing regulations you need to know.
You must ensure you have the correct entitlement on your driving licence before towing with your van. Your driving licence will dictate your entitlement, which may differ depending on when you applied for your licence because there have been 3 EU directives that have adapted the rules.
If you obtained your drivers licence before 1 January 1997, you should be able to drive a van and tow a trailer of up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM). If you had passed your test after this time, you are able to tow a trailer, but only up to a MAM of 3,500kg (combined from the van and the trailer). If you passed your test after 19 January 2013, then you are limited to a trailer of no more than 3,500kg MAM.
If you wish to tow a heavier combination (up tp 12,000kg), then you must:
- Apply for a provisional licence for a trailer (category C1+E)
- Pass the theory test
- Pass the C1+E driving test
An operator's licence is needed if the commercial van will be towing goods of a certain weight.
An operator's licence is necessary if:
- The gross plated weight is more than 3,500kg (this weight is dictated by the vehicles maximum load)
- There is more than 1,525kg in unladen weight (with no plated weight and no passengers)
Depending on the type of business you are in, there are 3 types of licences: a standard national licence, standard international licence and a restricted licence.
Weight of the trailer
The weight is not only dictated by the driving licence, but also the vehicle and trailer.
Each van will have its own weight capacity, the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) and the Gross Combination Weight (GCW) which covers the weight in the van and on the trailer. These weight limits can be found on the chassis plate (sticker from the manufacturer usually located on a front door sill) or the V5C registration certificate.
The trailer will also have its own capacity, which is the maximum that the trailer can be loaded to. This can be found in the vehicle's handbook or chassis plate, as the GVW. It is not legal to exceed this weight.
Size of the trailer
Depending on the GVW, the size of the trailer may be restricted.
- If the towing vehicle has a GVW of 3,500kg then it is restricted to a trailer of 7m long by 2.55cm wide
- If the towing vehicle has a heavier GVW, it can tow a trailer with a maximum size of 12m long by 2.55 wide.
- For longer loads (such as a business that carries boats or gliders) these limits do not apply.
Brakes on the trailer
The weight capacity of the trailer will dictate what the brake rules are.
- A trailer is not required to have brakes if it has a GVW of 750kg or lower.
- A trailer is required to have brakes if it has a GVW of over 751 kg.
If the trailer has brakes, they must be the correct type, fitted correctly so they work automatically and in working order.
The national speed limit changes when your van is towing a trailer. Unless stated otherwise by the manufacturer of your van or trailer, or by your business, the maximum speed limits in the UK for your van when towing a trailer are as follows:
- 30 mph in built-up areas
- 50 mph on single carriageways
- 60 mph on dual carriageways
- 60 mph on motorways
There are regulations for van drivers that may apply to you, depending on how much you are towing, the hours you drive and which country you are driving in.
Great Britain Domestic Rules
GB domestic rules apply to most goods vehicles and are exempt in Northern Ireland. These rules dictate that you cannot drive for more than 10 hours in a day, and you must not be on duty (working time) for more than 11 hours in any working day.
EU driving rules dictate that you are not allowed to drive more than:
- 56 hours in a week
- 9 hours in a day
There are exceptions, where you can extend the daily hours to 10 hours twice a week. You must also ensure you take:
- 11 hours rest every day
- At least a 45-minute break no more than 4 hours 30 minutes after driving
Rules that cover driving outside of the EU are covered by the European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport (AETR). These rules are now the same as the EU rules listed above. These rules cover driving in the following countries:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- North Macedonia
- San Marino
- United Kingdom
When driving a van and towing goods, you must record your hours on a tachograph. A tachograph is used to keep people safe and ensure all the rules are followed.
If you do not follow the rules above, you could be putting yourself and other drivers at risk, as you are making the vehicle less stable and putting a huge strain on the vehicle's tyres. Overloading a vehicle is illegal, and you could find yourself with large fines and/or penalties if the rules are not followed. It will also mean you are not covered by insurance if, in the unfortunate event, an incident were to occur.
It is important that before travelling in a commercial van towing a trailer, that you seek full clarification on the specific legal requirements to meet for your journey and vehicle.